U.S. Open Goes High Tech for Social Shopping

Tennis tournament taps into UGC to push sales

Getting fans to stock up on merchandise while at games has long been a huge aim for marketers of short-lived sports tournaments. And this year, the United States Tennis Association is getting high tech in order to move merchandise and memorabilia for this year's U.S. Open, which began yesterday.

The USTA—with the help of Spredfast—has created a section within the Open’s website that pulls in user-generated content tagged with tournament-themed hashtags and keywords from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Vine. A system built into the site detects clothing and other products in a picture and then matches it up with merchandise. (So a replica of tennis star Andy Murray's Adidas playing shirt, as one example, can be served up.) A "Shop now" button next to each photo links to the USTA’s e-commerce site, where consumers can buy the product. USTA staffers also moderate the content coming through the site to ensure it’s on-brand.

"If fans are sharing pictures of themselves—as they do often with their U.S. Open gear on and other things throughout the tournament—we’re going to portray that," said Nicole Jeter-West, the USTA's managing director of digital strategy. "Then, if you see someone wearing something in a tweet or a post, we’re going to be able to allow fans to actually shop that style right from that tweet or post."

On-Site Social Activations Grow

This is also the second year that the USTA will deploy U.S. Open "social walls"—physical displays that represent chatter from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Vine—around the tournament’s grounds at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

Last year, the tourney used an eight-foot-by-50-foot display to stream the social content, and is expanding the effort this year to include three 20-foot-by-10-feet themed walls sponsored by American Express, Esurance and IBM. American Express’ content ties in with the fan experience, and Esurance’s wall is focused on celebrities and entertainment around the tournament. IBM’s wall spotlights the social content that players are churning out.

Fifteen-second sponsored videos run before the social content pops up on all three walls, and one of the large screens is touch-activated so that attendees can log in to their Twitter and Facebook accounts to retweet and share content, which is also pulled into the U.S. Open’s website.

"Last year, we started working with them to bring social more into the mix, and it proved to be a very successful platform for them," said Brian Foley, senior director of sports partnerships at Spredfast, a social marketing vendor. "We’ve increased the amount of social activations that we’re doing this year with this being one component of a much larger picture."

To Foley’s point, a number of brands rolled out more tech-savvy digital activations at this year’s tournament, including Heineken and Mercedes-Benz.